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Nov 30, 2020

Some grandparents have taken on the grand role while still holding onto their jobs. In this episode, Emily studies this balancing act with an author-educator, two grandmas still at work, and an adult daughter. What do they all get from the combination, and what is the cost?


Author and educator Madonna Harrington Meyer's book is Grandmothers at Work: Juggling Families and Jobs.

Grandmothers at Work

Therapist Pam Siegel and co-author Leslie Zinberg wrote Grandparenting: Renew, Relive, Rejoice. The website Grandparents Link was co-founded by Leslie. 

book cover


  When I was a young mother, I worked as a journalist, a technical writer and an adjunct  professor. I finished my Master’s degree soon after I got married and enjoyed a few years of writing and teaching before we started to have children.

  After our second child, I started to feel overwhelmed and frustrated trying to both work and care for our growing family. My husband and I decided together that I would stop working. We would have to live on less and be okay with that. For me, it was an easy decision. If it meant we would own a house with a tiny kitchen, no dishwasher, no air conditioning , and a washer and dryer in a dank, old basement, in exchange for more time with the children, that was a fair trade. Of course, I realize now that even having the choice not to work was extreme luxury. It was beyond privilege for me to be living in a single-family home with two cars and plenty of heat and water. I was one of the lucky ones. 

  However, I don’t think I realized then what I know now. If you step back from work and career to care for your children, you have most likely exited the pathway to financial success. It’s true for both men and women. It is very hard to climb back up a ladder when the rungs are no longer there. 

  I say all this to remind you that this is still as true now as it was when we were young parents. And it has ramifications for your future as a grandparent. We live in an age where grandparents who voluntarily stepped off the ladder are usually the grandmothers. The grandfathers, for the most part, continued in the workplace, and are now enjoying the flexible work schedules and higher incomes that they have “earned” for their career perseverance. There is little expectation that they might be the ones taking care of the grandchildren. 

  For me, I stayed out of the workplace long enough that when I got back in it (when our four children were high-school aged) I was qualified only for entry level positions. I became a secretary at a school in our district so that I would have the same hours as my children. But the pay was low and the work much more intense than what I might have been doing, had I stayed the course. 

  I often joked as I stapled colored paper borders on the school lobby bulletin board, that this is why I got my master’s degree. Honestly, it was a hard pill to swallow. 

  Fast forward to now. I am a grandmother with very little job advancement in my occupational outlook. In fact, so little that it hardly seems worth it to me. I don’t see investing time in a menial job while my grandchildren are growing up so fast that if I don’t take the time to see them, they will be adults before I know it.  But there’s always that same push and pull that I felt as a mother. If I work, I have extra money to do things I’d like to do for my kids. If I don’t work, I have the time with them but not the money. Again, I know that I speak from a place of privilege where I can actually decide that I want to live simply and do not need a job just to survive. 

  Same thing applies now as it did then. Except now I’m a grandmother, and I can be the grandmother who doesn’t work and has the time to be with my grands OR I can be the grandmother who works hard, has plenty of money to do fun things, but hasn’t got the time to do them. I know it’s not as black and white as I’m portraying it to be. There are plenty of women who do both.  And I applaud them. And I’m assuming that, as some of my guests will attest, there is a way to find that delicate balance. But then, I wonder about the grandfathers? Do they feel that same tug-of-war between careers and grandchildren?

  I like to imagine in the future that men and women will feel the push-pull equally and might find a balanced equilibrium between the two. Most likely, in the future, grandfathers will watch their grandchildren one or two days a week, and then work the other days. Maybe grandmothers can do the same without penalty or worries about losing their jobs. Maybe both can advance their careers while still investing time with their grandchildren and making enough money to support both their wants and needs. Wouldn’t that be a lovely thing? 

© 2020 Emily Morgan